I have been feeling sick for a couple of weeks (or more, I can’t remember now). As a result, my ability to get things done has varied greatly depending on whether I’m willing to push through the exhausted, swollen, weak self that I have become. I would guess it is a cold. But mixed with the heat and the workload it is impossible to tell whether the cold is worse from running around or I just have a bad infection. A doctor’s visit is now in order.
I have finally decided to put every thing down for a day and see if some rest will help. My husband made breakfast, got a load of laundry in (I might have done that actually), got the kids dressed, and off to day care and I lurked around in the shadows feeling useless, trying to back him up and failing miserably as I fell on the couch for yet another ‘lie down’.
Now I am sitting half-alive slouched on the couch filling in reimbursement health care forms, checking off school supply lists and assembling backpacks, looking into credit card payment options for our farm produce online etc. (and yes, writing a blog post). All the things I can do in my slumped fog. I promise that at the end of the day I will feel awful that I have gotten ‘nothing done’.
I learned some things this morning. One is that what I once took for granted turns out looks like a lot of work. I felt so much guilt watching my husband undergo my tasks of the early morning. But I can’t rightly assume I don’t contribute to the family, then ask my husband to do my work and feel terrible about all that he has to take on alone, can I?
Husband is now doing the barn chores for me. 10:30am and still not able to get to his usual work. And yet still, I have always assumed my work to be negligible.
I recall the days not long ago that I would feel so frustrated as I ran the kids to day care, and did the morning errands in town (feed store, tractor diesel, fencing parts, plumbing parts, canning jars…), did my morning barn chores and then wondered why at noon I had still not started my day.
I’m not exactly sure what it is I’m hoping to ‘start’. Isn’t the meal-making, the laundry-doing, the chores, the drop-offs, the form-filling all part of a day? Why would I exclude that in the definition of a productive day?
I think, my friends, that I have discovered a major kernel of truth about the day women chose or were expected to get out and earn an income. I know for me, the day I dawned a crisp, clean outfit and proper click-clacking shoes to head to an office somewhere was the day all other jobs were rendered ‘free time’. And with my ‘free time’ I was able to do things like put food in my fridge, clean my clothes, service my car, clean my house etc. if I wanted to.
Or, as time grew more and more scarce, especially once children entered the stage, I could pay for my meals in the freezer section of the grocery store or the local take-out spot and pay someone to clean my house, do my oil changes and take care of my kids. All of that so that my ‘free’ time could now be spent doing things that I actually wanted to do – like read books, listen to music, take dance classes, learn origami, go surfing in the Bahamas, whatever suited my fancy.
But here is the truth I figured out. Once you are responsible for the care of other living things, there is no such thing as free time. This is true whether you have 3 off-site jobs or you do all your work around the home, fields and barn. There are only choices about which things need your attention more urgently. There might be ways of sticking out your arms and carving out small windows of time to intentionally go on a date with your husband, take a trip, or do nothing! But the free time doesn’t appear in vast expanses as it had when we were younger, less responsible human beings. You will never stand there and say: ‘wow, I’m all done my tasks for the day, perhaps I will make myself a coffee and sit down for a bit.’
Well, if you’re anything like me you make that coffee and sit down anyway. Probably with a thunk so loud the neighbours can hear. But the list is never done. The work is never finished. And the guilt about this great ‘rest’ you are taking never goes away. I think the best we can do is justify the rest as the sane thing to do. It is the right thing to do. It is human to need to stop. If only for 66 seconds.
So now it is time to start viewing the day-to-day work that I am doing as important and necessary. It IS my day. I can’t assume that all the stuff I do is just what gets done before my day starts. Under this perception, my day may never really start.
These things that make up our days, wherever our work finds us, they matter too. They are the building blocks of a life as strong and valuable as any other. But I don’t have to tell you that, do I? You knew that already. It seems I needed to learn it.